Yes, the title is ironic.
The road to manhood is a tricky one, and it’s often brought into sharp relief around the time of birthdays. I’ve had all kinds over the years - quiet ones, noisy ones, sexy ones, but perhaps none so memorable as my seventeenth.
Now a bit of background maybe required here. Until I was 15, I’d attended an all boys school - when I suddenly switched to a mixed comprehensive for my GCSE’s, it was a massive shock to the system. I’d swapped mainly because I’d wanted to do Drama GCSE, which my old school didn’t offer. I was really into acting at the time, although in later years I fell out with it a bit, largely because of teenage angst. I often think what might of happened if I’d stuck with it (obviously all my fantasies involve being a Hollywood movie star, and not slugging away at acting in some miserable Midland’s-based rep company, which is what I’d probably be doing). Acting was good to me, and it did get me my first snog.
Anyway, I’m digressing here. The point is, my poor teenage brain was suddenly blown apart by the addition of these things called ‘girls’ into my life. They were smart and sassy, and most of all, COMPLETELY TERRIFYING. I was convinced that they were sexy aliens, sent to earth to warp poor boys brains, complete with their eyeliner and short skirts and the ability to turn your brain to absolute jelly whenever they asked you a question. In my complete naivety, I had absolutely no idea how to communicate with these strange beasts and so my tactic was largely to run away and hide, which meant that I wasn’t particularly popular. Shunned from the cool crowd, I found refuge with a small gaggle of similar refugees, and though initially the only thing that we had in common was that we were a bit nerdy (although interestingly, we were all nerdy about completely different things), we ultimately became a tightly knit group.
It was nearly September, and the long summer holidays were nearly dripping to a close. My birthday falls on September 3rd, which brilliantly, was often the day school started again. Not only does this mean that my birthday sucked 5 out of every 7 years, it also meant that it was hard to invite people to a party when you weren’t seeing them at school. Not that I minded much - for my seventeenth birthday I was quite content just to invite my misfits over for a night of games, cider drinking and movies (I seem to remember Terminator 2 was on telly that night, and though we’d all sneaked in to see it at the cinema a few years previously, it was still a source of great excitement for some reason). As it turned out, fate (or at least, my mother) had other plans in store.
At 7pm or thereabouts, my friends turned up, driven by parents in a sort of nerdy motorcade of variously crappy cars. I lived quite far out of town y’see, in a tiny village, so it was quite an expedition for some of them. I can still see them arriving now - Paul, who loved his hip hop and wanted to become a DJ (he did), Damien, who loved writing and wanted to become a writer (he did), Kevin, who liked techno and wanted to get off his face 24/7 (he did) and finally Dom, who liked physics, and wanted to rip a wormhole in the space-time continuum (which, luckily, he didn’t).
All was going to plan - I had the nibbles all laid out, the TV remote had fresh batteries, and there was a brand new VHS tape in the recorder for Terminator 2 (I had to tape it, who knew when it would be on again?). I’m pretty sure I’d written “TERMINATOR 2 - DO NOT TAPE OVER EVER” on the label in fat black marker, after a nasty incident in which my sister tapped over my copy of scanners with several episodes of My Little Pony. Not only was I furious, but she was traumatised when she discovered that the third episode of her talking pony cartoon seemingly had a horrific live-action epilogue involving an exploding head.
We all drank a bit of cider and waited for the film to start. My dad was at work, and my brother and sister were staying elsewhere that night. Annoyingly, I hadn’t been able to get rid of my mother though, who had promised to stay upstairs and not interfere. Oh, if only. We were all surprised when the doorbell went at 7.30pm - everyone was already here weren’t they? We heard my Mum run to the door and invite people in. What the heck? Was she having her own party? No. She’d just decided to throw me one. With a bunch of teenagers that she’d met at the park that afternoon. Worried, I think, that the whole thing was going to be a bit of a ‘sausage fest’, she’d invited a bunch of local girls, who all brought their local boyfriends. Pretty soon there was about thirty people in the room, all drinking and smoking and generally having a good old teenage time.
Well, everyone apart from me that is. Because I was, let’s face it, a bit of a square back then. I didn’t then smoke, hadn’t quite embraced drinking fully, and had certainly never been to a proper teenage party. Some of them were even smoking CANNABIS While it was all probably laughably innocent, back then, to my tiny mind, it felt like a riot of bacchanalian excess. I ran around the house panicking - don’t touch that vase! Don’t mess with my sister’s toys! You’re spilling drink everywhere! What is this music? Can’t we listen to The Carpenters?
My mum of course thought it was hilarious, but I got quite upset, eventually ordering everyone out. Of course now, I look back on this with some bemusement, wondering why I was so ridiculously uptight. After all my mum had just done a nice thing (and was probably a bit worried that I wouldn’t ever learn to talk to girls without some kind of intervention). But I think it was just because I had planned out what we were going to do, and I’m not good with change. Also, I was kind of a dick, and a teenager.
Eventually everyone apart from my friends had left. The lounge was total carnage, and the kids had taken all the drink. The only thing that was left was our 4 litre bottle of cider - and that had a few fag butts floating in it. I’d had a bit of a meltdown, and was a bit fragile, and so when the doorbell rang again, I almost jumped out of my skin. I went and answered the front door, only to find a police woman standing there. “We’ve had a few complaints about the noise,” she said, and I instantly burst into hot salty tears.
“No, I’m sorry,” I babbled. “It wasn’t us, we were gatecrashed, well sort of gatecrashed, they’ve all gone now there won’t be any more - ” Seeing I was in some distress, the Policewoman quickly changed her tone.
“Oh, wait, don’t cry, it’s ok, I’m not really from the Police - I’m a stripper!” I stared at her for a second. It was all a bit too much to take in.
“Oh FUCK OFF!” I cried, and slammed the front door, leaving the poor girl standing on the doorstep looking very confused, and probably a bit annoyed that her taxi had just left (And yes, I did think it was a bit strange she’d turned up in a taxi - I guess I’d just thought they were short on squad cars that night).
I ran out into the back garden and sat on the climbing frame my Dad had made out of scaffolding (in fairness, he had painted it primary colours). Tears ran down my stupid face, as I heard shouts in the house (apparently Kevin had had a bit too much too drink - he subsequently kicked a hole in the fence, before collapsing onto the back doorstep in a puddle of his own sick. My Dad moaned about that fucking fence hole for months. Which I suppose he was entirely justified in doing. I just couldn’t really make sense of what had happened. I was even more freaked out when it later became apparent that MY MUM had hired the stripper - no one wants their mum picking out strippers for them, do they?
Strangely though, I do think it was quite good for me. I became a bit more relaxed after that, and once news of my birthday car crash spread through school, I began to get invited to other parties. Where I similarly made a gigantic penis of myself. But that, dear readers, is a tale for another day.