Still from the new Ian Curtis biopic, Control
We all have selective memory when it comes to our childhoods and it becomes even more selective when we relay the stories. When I was child, I was continuously reinventing and selecting my history as I went along, as I am sure most children do. After watching 21 Jump Street, at about age twelve, I envisioned myself a part of a multi-racial gang of cool kids. We would all lead separate lives with separate interests but on a Friday night we would all to get together and exchange stories about our week. We would walk around town, invincible. Turning heads wherever we went because we were Black, White, Asian, female, male, straight and gay (now there’s some selective memory for you, I was actually a homophobic bastard when I was a teenager). We were skateboarders, martial arts experts, punks, nerds, Goths and musicians.
The reality was quite far from my ideal in the expatriate culture I grew up in Bahrain. My friends were indeed multi-racial, Brits, Americans, Arabs, Pakistanis and Indian males but we all liked the same activities, same music and dressed the same. Kids who did otherwise were not our friends and in general everyone tended to be deeply embedded in their various cliques.
The biggest rival clique to mine was a group of older British kids and British wannabes, male and female. They dressed in black, wore winkle-pickers, listened to The Cure, The Mission, New Model Army and Joy Division. They hated us because we were younger, Californian aspiring skate nerds.
I remember skateboarding by myself one afternoon, waiting for my mum to pick me up and one of them drove by. He was being driven by his mother and sitting in the back with his girlfriend. As they drove by, he snarled at me. In response, I flipped him the ‘V’. He then pointed right at me, nodded and slid his index finger across his throat. I was dead. I had flipped him off, in front of his mother and girlfriend and I knew I was going to pay. For weeks, I worried about where I was going hang out to avoid him but ultimately everyone tended towards the same hang-outs, I knew it was coming. And then I broke my leg. Skateboarding, of course.
One day I was the bus. My leg was in a cast and I had crutches. I’d give myself a really ridiculous haircut. It was long and shaggy on top and I had shaved the sides down to the skin. I was sitting there, trying to lay low while the cool kids were smoking at the back and then he walked on. He walked up to me, called me a ‘mushroom head,’ slammed my head against the window and said, ‘when this bus stops, you’re dead’ and then went to sit down to have a smoke. That was one of the longest bus journey’s I have ever had.
So the bus stops and I hobble off. Immediately, he starts kicking me with his pointy winkle-picker shoes and I wonder what sort of beating I’m in for until one of his friends says to him, ‘Can’t you see he has a broken leg?’ With everyone looking at him he gave it up, spat in my direction and they all walked off. None of my fucking friends did a damn thing.
I hated them and their subculture before that incident but now I loathed it. Fuck you. fuck Robert Smith, fuck Manchester, fuck Joy Division fuck your winkle pickers and tight black jeans and fuck your wanky hairdo. I was always plotting my revenge but at the same time, friends of mine were dangerously flirting with leaving skateboarding and joining their clique.
One of my friends was a couple of years older than me. He had just moved to Bahrain from Glasgow. He was punk before I knew what punk was. He had spiked blonde, acne that actually made him look tougher, skin tight black jeans and hundreds of ripped t-shirts with band names I had never heard of sprawled across them. He smoked at age fourteen at home with his parents. He even smoked in my house and my parents never said anything. He was going to be who he wanted to be and no one could say anything about it. How fucking cool was that? I idolized him for awhile. For whatever reason he liked me. Probably because he had decided to take up skateboarding and I was somewhat competent at it. People wanted to know him and would approach him and he might say, ‘I’m Simon Graham who the fuck are you? Pete and me are going skatin’. Fuck off!’ Yeah, take that arseholes. Simon and me are going skateboarding and there is fuck’all you can say about it. Being who he was, he effortlessly brought his Glaswegian punk/ heroin chic aesthetic to skateboarding and it worked. He was certainly no Californian wannabe like the rest of us. I learnt a lot from this young man including how to sniff glue and Butane.
Of course the older British kids, found out about the glue sniffing and gave me hell about it. Yes, solvent abuse is insanely idiotic but I didn’t need to provide them with more ammunition for the assault on my character. Yet, I soon had my glory moment. One of them was given a skateboard by his grandmother for Christmas. He came up to me one day and asked if I would show him some moves. The skateboard was immaculate, brand spanking new, not a scratch on it. I said, ‘Oh sure, I will.’ I took the board and beat the hell out of it on the surrounding curbs and planters, thrashed the fucker unlike I’ve thrashed any skateboard before. Until, ‘Hey be careful my granny gave that to me.’ I threw the board at his feet and laughed. I was liberated and all in front of my friend Simon.
Not long after that, Simon announced to me, ‘Pete you won’t be seeing much of me this Easter holiday.’ I asked why and he replied, ‘Because, I’m going to focus on pussy instead of skateboarding.’ Since when did he use the word ‘pussy?’ Before long he was ‘going out’ with the same girl I had flipped off months prior, the same girl who was once on the arm of the lad who wanted to kick my broken arse. I pretended to shrug it off nonchalantly but yeah, it hurt.
By my mid to late twenties, I was finally able to listen to Joy Division. Oh my god, what had I denied myself? In my head I re-invented my past in 1980s Manchester, life on the dole, strikes, relishing in the bleakness of Thatcher’s Britain. Now, I can’t listen to some of their song without breaking into a sweat or an uncontrollable shake. Maybe, it was better I waited.
Oh and I ended up marrying a girl, a wannbe Brit, who used to hang out with the crew of cunts that I hated so much and she took me to California.
Hey can we get a babysitter, so we can go and watch Control?