(Paul Fitzpatrick – London)
The first part of your life seems to be a never-ending procession of scary entry levels.
Day one at Primary school you feel abandoned and alone. Intimidated by all these desks and chairs and all these other little people, and some big people too.
Day one on the school bus to secondary school, where do you even sit?
Day one at secondary school – oh shit, I’m going to get ducked!
Day one at your first teenage disco/party – why has my Mum dressed me up to look like one of Lulu’s backing dancers?
Day one at your new job – oh God, now they’re going to realise I don’t have 10 O-levels after all.
Of course, the journey usually ends pretty well, with a roll call of honours along the way – Milk Monitor, Seats at the back of the bus, Lots of pals and to cap it all off a Mortgage.
In other words, most of the things we fret about never happen, the problem is, we just don’t know it at the time.
The local youth club was kind of daunting for a 12-year-old, it was mostly ‘older kids’ made up of cool guys or pretty girls who had no time for plebs.
Of course, these ‘older kids’ who were so intimidating were only 14 or 15, but back then 15 was mature, 18 was grown up and 40 was ancient – to a 12-year-old.
Luckily there was a group of 4 or 5 of us, all friends who were to embark on this scary venture together. One of our gang even had an older brother who was part of the cool guy crowd.
Family ties didn’t count for much in this hierarchy however, in this egalitarian bubble our pal was just another wee pleb like the rest of us
Walking into my old primary one classroom that doubled as the youth club reception was surreal enough, and like a brood of baby ducklings walking into the middle of a gaggle of geese we immediately felt intimidated and out of place.
Not to worry there were lots of activities though……
There was table tennis – “that looked like fun” but all the older boys were playing with more waiting to play.
There was a mini snooker table – “that looked like fun” but all the older boys were playing with more waiting to play.
There was a table football game – “that looked like fun” but all the older boys were playing with more waiting to play.
There was badminton – “that looked like fun” but all the older boys were playing with more waiting to play, and there were even some girls waiting as well……
The other obstacle in these days of ‘winner stays on!’ was a guy, let’s call him Tabby, who was freakishly proficient at any activity that involved eye to hand coordination, Tennis, Badminton, Table Tennis you name it.
He was so good that he would play left-handed sometimes just to make it interesting. He was never cocky about it though and we all just accepted that he’d been blessed by the Greek god of racket sports.
Tabby was only a year older than us, but his skill sets gave him a unique position in the hierarchy that we could only dream about.
And then there was a record player with lots of 45’s and a few albums scattered around, but that was the girl’s stronghold, you had as much chance of infiltrating that little scene and choosing a record as the sun rising in the west.
If we were intimidated by the boys then the girls were even more intimidating, mainly because they all seemed so glamorous, and sophisticated and we were just, well, daft wee boys
We needn’t have worried though, they were a friendly bunch and couldn’t have been nicer – looking back they were a bit like The Pink Ladies in Grease but definitely more Frenchie than Rizzo!
They were also quick to help any of the new girls settle in and maybe that’s just the difference between boys and girls.
Things got easier for us after that awkward introduction, we learned not to be so timid, sometimes paying for it, but earning our spurs and becoming part of the order of things.
We eventually got to play some of the table games and realised that the older guys were just treating us the way they’d been treated. It was clear we wouldn’t be rookies for ever and we’d move up the youth club ranking order soon enough.
We could never get near the record player though and looking back I’m glad we couldn’t.
The girls had impeccable taste and curated the best pop-songs of the day. In most cases the girls brought in their own records otherwise as the heid DJ correctly said “you’d be listening to The Alexander brothers and Lena Martell, all night” .
They say that ‘music’s a part of everyone’s autobiography’ and I couldn’t agree more.
I still hear songs today that remind me of that youth club, songs integral to my memories of being a young teenager.
Songs that I heard for the first time on that wee record player in that tiny classroom, the classroom that had been my first entry level challenge.
I made up a playlist of some of those songs and listening to them took me back there.
I closed my eyes, and I was playing Tabby at table tennis again, it was nip and tuck but then I realised he was blindfolded, playing left-handed and standing on one leg, and I still lost!